“Go and Sin No More”: The Battle Within
“I do not understand what I do.
For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” 1
Jesus when he had saved the woman, who had been caught for adultery, from death by stoning, asked her if anyone remained there who condemned her of her act of sin (well her sinful life). The woman replied that there was no-one. Jesus then said these words to her in parting: “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” 2
These words of exhortation that the Lord gave to the woman, he also imparts to us, at our own individual turning point; our point of conversion, our point of becoming a Christian, our point of becoming his disciple. ‘Go and sin no more,’ is what is expected from us. But the reality is different. In the opening verse we see the predicament of Paul, as he struggled with sin, which was ever present and which still exerted its power over his body of flesh (read chapter seven of the Book of Romans to get a full description of this intense struggle). In this we empathize with Paul. We carry on within us the same struggle, the same war with our sinful nature; that nature which veers constantly towards the desires of the flesh. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by these desires and we give in and sin.
Why do we do what we do not want to do and do not do what we want or should do? Why do we still struggle with sin even after becoming a Christian – in fact I would say the struggles start or are intensified when we accept Christ. Why is it that at some moments we are full of grace and love and at some moments we behave like a fiend? Why is it that the same lips which sing praise to God one moment, hurl curses and swear words at our ‘neighbor’? Why is it knowing that a particular act may not be pleasing to God, we still end up doing it? Why is it that on some occasions we use this body, ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit’,3 in acts which are unholy? I can go on but the cold fact is, that having accepted Christ we do not transition into a state of sinless bliss. Can we at all attain a sinless state? We will look at this later.
But first let us look at the working of God’s grace. We have to understand the problem of sin at two levels or in two stages. Firstly as regards the ‘generic’ sin of which the whole world stands condemned of: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 4 It is a sweeping condemnation. All mankind has been condemned. There is no exception and not a single one born of flesh is excluded, other than of course Jesus, who was without sin in the flesh. ALL stand condemned, but ALL (i.e. those who accept) also stand justified, by the redemptive grace of God in Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus the forgiveness of sins has been given to mankind and we are saved from condemnation. The other level of sin or sinning is that which we continue to commit even after accepting the forgiveness of God in Christ. It is this post conversion sinning, that we will be covering here.
Apostle John was categorical that: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” 5 Someone has stated that the world is classified into two categories of people. In the first category are those who admit they are sinners and in the second category are those who do not admit they are sinners. But it remains that ALL are sinners. I will venture to sub-classify the first category into those who know they are sinners and have accepted God’s forgiveness in Christ, and those who while they acknowledge they are sinners, are yet to know or accept Christ as their Saviour. Of course accepting your sinfulness is the first step towards accepting God’s grace. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” 6 declared Jesus. Those who do not acknowledge their sinful state, or have their own form of righteousness, do not feel the need for or can accept the Saviour Christ. Christ cannot heal them of their sickness. “The worst thing about being a sinner is that one has to live with perpetual sickness,” wrote Cynndylan Jones, the Welsh preacher.
Before we look at the problem of why we sin, let us first see what sin does. What is its effect on the spiritual life of a disciple? We should accept as a basic truth that ultimately all sin constitutes sinning against God. David sinned against Uriah the Hittite, the murdered husband of Bathsheba, with whom he had committed adultery; but acknowledged that it was ultimately a sin against God. He cried out: “Against you, you only, have I sinned …. .” 7 in a psalm which is perhaps David’s most heartfelt because it was written with a broken, contrite, and repentant heart. When we sin against a person, we are actually sinning against the image of God in that person, which is tantamount to sinning against God. That is why all God’s laws – whether positively stated or those which are negative (Thou shalt not …) – have been given to preserve the dignity of His image in man.
When we sin, we not only break God’s law, but also His heart. We are figuratively – when we sin – turning our backs to Him; rejecting His love for us and His concern for what is good and bad for us. And this hurts God and causes Him much grief. The relationship is broken. We are restless. God is restless. And this restlessness remains till the relationship is restored once again. We lose the joy of salvation. The Holy Spirit, whom we have ignored and grieved when we sin, though does not leave us, but withdraws. We do not feel God’s presence anymore. Listen to the words of David from the same psalm; they would appear to you as if it is your heart that is crying out: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” 8
Sin weakens the voice and the power of the Holy Spirit within us. It gives the devil a foothold in us; who then attacks us with the weapons of guilt (you have let God down) and failure (you cannot keep God’s commandments; you do not really love Him). The result is a weakened disciple, and a spiritual life that limps. Actually in a way we hand over victory to Satan, who can then mock God that here is another of your child who is still continuing in his sinful ways. Do we want to keep giving Satan his victories?
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” 9 is one of the blessedness promised by Jesus. And David cries over the uncleanness of his heart which has been caused by sin. Some portions of that wonderful psalm again: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” 10 Francois Mauriac wrote, “Impurity separates us from God....... purity is the condition for a higher love – for a possession superior to all possessions: that of God.”
Why do we sin? Why after accepting God’s forgiveness and having been justified, we still commit acts of sin or trespass? Why do we fall short of God’s standards, when we know what He expects from us? The answer lies in the fact that while we have been justified and are considered righteous, once we accepted that the death of Christ has paid the penalty for our sins, we still have to undergo sanctification and that too to its fullest extent. That is we are in the process of being made holy, of being made Christlike. The sanctification process is underway and will carry on in us till the very end of our life.
To put it differently; let us look at this from the aspect of the 3 Ps of sin - penalty, power, and presence. The penalty for our sins (both past and future) has been paid for by Jesus. We only have to take hold of the forgiveness God has given in him. The power of sin remains throughout our earthly life; while we are in this body of flesh, which is to say while we have the sinful nature. The power of sin diminishes as we increasingly become Christlike. The work of transformation or making us holy is that of the Holy Spirit. We all are presently in this stage. Then finally the presence of sin; while we are in this corrupted and fallen world we will always experience the presence of sin. That will disappear only when we have been glorified; which will be when we finally have our dwelling with God. Taking the example of Christ to illustrate the point; sin had no power over him, but he felt the presence of sin while he was in this world.
So currently we remain subject to the power of sin. How much power ultimately sin has over us, depends on our level of holiness or in other words our level of spiritual development; how much Christ has developed in us. So depending on that, will be our level of susceptibility to sin. The more Christ develops in us, the stronger we will be in resisting temptations that we will face in different circumstances and situations.
The sinful nature, with which we were born, remains present in us even after we become a Christian. This sinful nature is at warfare with our spiritual nature. The old man constantly clashes with the new man. Therefore we can never be completely free from the power of sin. No saint, no matter how big a one, can claim that he or she has become free from the power of sin or has not fallen into sin at one time or the other. The only difference between a saint and another saint is in their level of saintliness (godliness or holiness), which then determines how much power sin has on them. “It is the saints who have the sense of sin, the sense of sin is the measure of soul’s awareness of God,” wrote Father Daniel Lou.
Please note that God will not make us ‘sin-free’ with a wave of His hand. But He will give us power, the power of the Holy Spirit in us, to face up to the power of sin, and overcome it. Without this power we have no hope. Of our own strength we cannot overcome sin. We are impotent to subject sin to our control. We have to take hold of this power, which God gives us, to fight ‘against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ 11. In fact it is my firm belief that the believer is specially marked for attack by the devil and his legions; and the more we grow in Christ the stronger the attacks become, as if to test our level of development in Christ. This appears to be part and parcel of what we can expect when we become Christians. Charles Peguy wrote, “No one is so competent a witness to the substance of Christianity as the sinner; no one except perhaps the saint.”
So given the state that we are in, that is subjected to the power of sin; where do we stand in our faith? Are we to be perennially ‘disabled’ Christians, always struggling with sin, which is ever present and which does not relent in appealing to our degenerate nature? Where is our hope? Where is the victorious life which we are supposed to lead in Christ? While Paul describes at length (in chapter seven of the epistle to the Romans) the inner struggles of the believer against sin, he does however end with a note of hope: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 12 He then gives a thumping statement in the next chapter: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” 13 What has happened to make things different? To give this hope?
Grace has been introduced and it changes the whole scheme of things. Paul explains how: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” 14 God provided the way out of the dilemma. By giving us grace, He provided the way for us to be righteous. Read on: “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” 15 That is Paul at his brilliant best!
So we need not despair. No need for sin to beat us down and make us lead a deflated life as Christians. As Paul stresses, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” 16 And also, “In the same way, count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 17 This is possible because God did not move us from one form of legalism to another, so that we would continue to remain occupied keeping count of our sins or the number of times that we broke the law. No, rather He has moved us under His grace and therefore we need not engage in book keeping any longer; for God Himself does not do any book keeping of our sins. “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” 18 And should we sin we have this confidence that our intercessor is always at work. John writes, “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” 19 And the Father listens to him because: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” 20
With a mediator of such tremendous credentials, ever standing before God, we can expect God to always accept the intercessions that he makes on our behalf; which might somewhat run on these lines: ‘Father please forgive Kamal this very sin. Though I do not condone it but I emphathise with his struggles against temptation, knowing fully well how weak is the flesh that he is wearing. I myself did not give in when I had a body like his, but I can see that Kamal has yielded and given in. But please remember that I have made atonement for his sins – this one included. So please forgive him, merciful Father’. God, the righteous and merciful Judge, would not be able to turn down such an appeal from His Son. Therefore Paul would not let his failures, his sins, rule him out of the race: “Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.” 21
And so must you. Satan will try his best to see that you self disqualify yourself, and bow out of the race; weighed down by your sins. Or he will see that you limp and are not a robust Christian, in service of God. Do not let this happen. For this is not the way God would want it. Remember you are under His grace and not the law.
We have seen that a believer can fall to sin even after his conversion, for he is still in the tent of flesh and living in a fallen world, where the decadence caused by sin is widely prevalent. We have also seen that the believer is justified by God’s grace; and once justified, he is no longer under the law of sin, but lives under grace. We have also seen that when he does sin, there is Jesus our high priest before God, who intercedes on his behalf; and his mediation is effective and protective. So when all things are in our favor, should we not go on sinning? Should we not go on a rampage; for it appears that we have been given the licence to sin? Let us lie, steal, hate, indulge in slander, covet our brother’s possessions, and what not. Even the ‘higher’ sins we can commit with impunity, because we are under grace and will surely receive God’s forgiveness, as our standing mediator (Jesus) will bail us out.
This is a dangerous situation and has been described by Philip Yancey as ‘the scandal of grace’. Grace becomes scandalous for it appears that it is open to abuse. Paul puts the question: “Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” 22 Well if my sinning results in God’s grace to be all the more evident or operative, then in fact I am doing a service to God by continuing to sin. If Christ’s name is glorified because of my sinning, then should I not carry on with it?
BY NO MEANS! Paul appears to shout these three words from the rooftop, and they emphatically attack any misconception that we may form of God’s grace. Yes grace has the potential of being abused; but only a warped mind can twist God’s grace in this manner. We can even conclude that perhaps that person has not tasted God’s grace at all. To his own question: “Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase,” Paul replies, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer.” 23
To Paul it is inconceivable that the one who has tasted God’s grace, the one who has been forgiven, would carry on sinning or would persist in his sinful ways. The reality is that you no longer want to carry on sinning. You no longer relish or enjoy sinning. Sin is not a habit any more. You find it repelling, should you sin. The Holy Spirit is in you and he convicts you and makes you conscious of sin. He will not leave you at peace when you sin, but fill you with remorse. You will not be at rest till you repent and seek God’s forgiveness. You will be restless till your relationship with God is restored and you feel His presence once again. John writes in his epistle: “No-one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” 24 and, “No-one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” 25 This is the wonder of grace and this is how grace scores over the law.
Through the law we came to know what sin is. We became conscious of sin. Sin came to be recognized as sin. To put it simply, sin became sin. But other than pointing to what sin is, the law did not give us the power against sin. In fact it worked the other way round. The law fanned our sinful nature. Now knowing what sin is, we had all kinds of desire in us to commit sin. The law was powerless to produce in us the desire not to sin. It only gave us direction of what was right and wrong.
Grace on the other hand, produces in us, because of our gratitude for receiving forgiveness, every intention not to sin; and thus please God, who has loved us and given us the forgiveness. What law could not do, grace has achieved. We no longer want to sin. The heart changes and the transformed person wishes to live a sinless life, emulating his Lord Jesus, so as to please God. He wants to use the parts of his body, not as instruments of wickedness (which was the case earlier), but as instruments of righteousness, and thereby bring glory to God. With the Holy Spirit making his dwelling in him at his conversion, he can no longer use his body for sinful acts without causing grief to the Spirit and bringing dishonor to God. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? ......... Therefore honor God with your body.” 26 That person is now part of the Body of Christ and must live his life as Jesus did. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” 27
The word of God has enough warnings for the charlatans, the imposters, the pretenders. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left.” 28 Note the word deliberately. And the writer of the Book of Hebrews points out that in that case (of those who deliberately sin), they are trampling the Son of God under foot and judgment awaits them. Peter warns that: “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” 29 The point is, while God is merciful and forgives us when we sin; He at the same time comes down hard on those who are abusing or misusing His grace to cover up their sinful ways and acts. You cannot expect to fool God who searches and knows the hearts of men. Hypocrisy and shamming stand exposed before Him.
We can gain victory over our sinful nature. While we will never be completely free of it, we can subject it under our control. This is possible by a conscious act on our part. An act of will, which has to be constantly applied. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” 30 We have to will ourselves to let the Spirit take control. The surrender has to be both in general and also specific to every situation we face; where we can fall into sin. “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” 31 It is our willingness and the power of the Spirit which will give us the victory. “But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” 32 Controlled by the Spirit, led by the Spirit, mind set on what the Spirit desires; this is the key to a truly Christian life. Live as a ‘free’ man.
And should we sin, then we must confess our sin before God; and Christ’s atonement will apply to that act of sin. And then move ahead, as Paul chose to do and advises us to do, having the confidence that:
“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” 33
1. Romans 7:15
2. John 8:11 (NLT)
3. 1 Corinthians 6:19
4. Romans 3:23.
5. 1 John 1: 8.
6. Mark 2:17.
7. Psalm 51:4
8. Psalm 51:11-12
9. Matthew 5:8
10. Psalm 51:2,7,10
11. Ephesians 6:12
12. Romans 7:24-25
13. Romans 8:1-2.
14. Romans 8:3.
15. Romans 8:3-4.
16. Romans 8:10
17. Romans 6:11.
18. Romans 6:14.
19. 1 John 2:1.
20. Hebrews 2:17-18.
21. Philippians 3:13-14
22. Romans 6:1.
23. Romans 6:2.
24. 1 John 3 :6
25. 1 John 3:9.
26. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
27. 1 John 2:6
28. Hebrews 10:26.
29. 1 Peter 2:16.
30. Romans 8:5
31. Romans 8:9
32. Romans 8:13-14.
33. Psalm 103:12 (NLT)